I truly appreciate when a show realizes it doesn't need all the flash, all the bells and whistles, in order to be great. Sometimes a show has such a simple and straightforward story to tell that it just needs to tell it. Such is the case with "The Suit" currently playing at the Seattle Rep. This heartbreaking tale has such simple innate beauty that it needs only some chairs, a few musicians and a trio of gifted actors to convey the tragic allure of itself.
It's basically a story of love, betrayal and revenge involving a young couple in Johannesburg during the era of apartheid. When Philemon (Ivanno Jeremiah) comes home from work early to discover his wife Matilda (Nonhlanhla Kheswa) in bed with another man, rather than fly into a rage, he insists that Matilda treat her lover's abandoned suit as an honored guest. He forces her to dine with it, go on outings with it and even sleep with it as a constant reminder of her infidelity. But as innocuous as the punishment may sound, it takes an unforeseen toll on the couple.
Based on Can Themba's short story the piece as adapted by Peter Brook, Marie-Helene Estienne and Franck Krawczyk goes beyond the revenge and torture that Philemon is inflicting on his wife and also looks at the growing unrest and subjugation of the black population during the horrors of apartheid. And while the ending of Brook's adaptation of the story left me a little perplexed, ultimately the piece is a shining gem of an example on how storytelling is done well.
Kheswa is riveting as a woman trapped by her own actions with a portrayal that is both simple and layered. And to not mention her soaring vocal turns as Matilda loses herself in song would be a crime. Jeremiah manages a stunning turn as a completely broken man with an air of straightforward nonchalance. Jordan Barbour fills out the story perfectly playing multiple roles and acting as a kind of narrator of the piece and keeps everything moving along with his wonderful stage presence. And I have to mention the trio of musicians, Arthur Astier, Mark Christine and Mark Kavuma who imbue the play with a delectably sultry air of jazz and blues.
Truly a gorgeous piece of theater and one that should be experienced. It's really only that slightly perplexing ending that keeps it from getting my highest rating. But with my three letter rating system; it's definitely a solid YAY.
"The Suit" performs at the Seattle Rep through April 6th. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Rep box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.